by William C Dietz
Publisher: Titan Books
Review by Richard Williams
"Detective Cassandra Lee of Los Angeles’s Special Investigative Section has built a fierce reputation taking down some of the city’s most notorious criminals. But the serial cop killer known as Bonebreaker - who murdered Lee’s father - is still at large. Officially, she’s too personally involved to work on the Bonebreaker case. Unofficially, she’s going to hunt him to the ends of the earth.
In the meantime, duty calls when the daughter of Bishop Screed, head of the Church of Human Purity, is kidnapped by mutants and taken into the red zone to be used for breeding. Assigned to rescue her, Lee must trust her new partner - mutant lawman Deputy Ras Omo - to guide her not only through the unfamiliar territory but through the prejudicial divisions between mutants and norms…”
The Mutant Files is a series of books set in a not too distant future where the world has been ravaged by an airborne disease that has affected millions. This society is divided into mutants and ‘norms’ with the mutants getting the raw end of the deal. Special clothing and masks need to be worn and simple luxuries such as eating out have become a masterclass in trying to prevent the spread of infection with specially treated partitions, booths and masks/nasal filters.
In short it’s all a bit grim.
Our protagonist in these dire times is an LA street cop named Cassandra Lee and damn me if the author wasn’t trying to throw every cliché in the book into… well, the book. Lee is a tough as nails ass-kicking heroine who prefers to work alone because of the partners she’s lost in the past, armed with a non-standard issue weapon, tasked with a job that comes straight from the mayor’s office which is putting pressure on the department, who spends her free time trying to solve the murder of her father, also a cop, whilst being stalked by the very same murderer who is both seemingly omniscient and unburdened by too many demands on his/her time. So yeah, just about every cop drama cliché I can think of has been thrown at this book as though the creator said ‘gee, I wonder how you write something almost guaranteed to get picked up by a network’.
I say that because I get the strong feeling that this book would make a great bad TV show. The all-too familiar lead female with her textbook problems (which in TV land of course includes a homicidal stalker) working with poor unfortunate mutants that a costume department would love. I’m particularly thinking along the lines of the Buffy/Angel shows where you had ‘whatever the heck’ demon of the week and then a fairly harmless set of demons that could be shown enjoying a drink in a demon bar. The mutants in this book are the bar demons. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Buffy and I didn’t love angel but OK, it had some good moments, but in this book I found the idea of an airborne disease that gives some people long floppy ears like a donkey and other people tentacle arms and other people just seriously messed-up puss-filled wounds a little too much to take on faith. This story could have tackled the issues of segregation and divided societies whilst demonstrating the troubles of policing a near post-apocalyptic world without the Carnivale freak-show of mutations. Just replace those with some genuinely upsetting physical symptoms of disease that kills 40-70% of those infected and boom, you’ve got compelling drama without the dead cop father (which wasn’t very compelling).
But I shall try not to judge this book on what it isn’t and might have been. So what is it? It’s a short book with plenty of action that seeks to entertain you until you reach the last page and no further. I doubt you will be talking about this book long after you put it down. The bad guys are purely bad guys, the good guys have shades of light and dark and the setting is post-post-apocalyptic. It’s the kind of story where bad guys get killed and you’re allowed to feel good about it.
If you like a quick read that doesn’t make too many demands on time or attention and has the usual cast of hard-bitten heroes, refreshingly cruel villains and poor unfortunate victims that are either saved in the last minute or discover they had a hero in them the whole time then you might just love this book.
Alternatively you can just wait for it to come out on the Fox network.